Ely Cathedral Celebrates Etheldreda 1350

26th May 2023

From Princess to Saint – Ely celebrates the life and legacy of Etheldreda who achieved her dream and established a religious house on the Isle of Ely in AD 673. 

From Princess to Saint: Ely celebrates Etheldreda 1350

Ely cathedral is hosting an exciting year-long programme of events, concerts, services and exhibits to mark this 1350th anniversary.

Highlights include a new guided tour focussing on Etheldreda’s time in Ely, a visual interpretation depicting the four key stages of her life from East Anglian Princess to Anglo Saxon Saint, and a live performance of a newly commissioned play.

In celebration of St Etheldreda’s Day in June the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell will preside and preach at a Diocesan service and a special floral display will adorn her shrine area. The cathedral will welcome in BBC Radio 3 broadcasting live in June for a Festal Evensong sung by the full Cathedral Choir in celebration of the Cathedral 1350th anniversary.

Further commemorative services will be held in October as the cathedral marks the feast of the Translation of Etheldreda, the Cathedral Choir will perform alongside Britten Sinfonia for a gala concert of Handel’s Messiah, and plans include Son et Lumière evenings towards the end of the year.

This is an anniversary for everyone and other events across the city are designed to bring the community together including a craft and food fair, Jacqui Parkinson’s Threads through Creation exhibition of twelve enormous, embroidered silk panels that explore the story of Creation. St Etheldreda in Flowers is a celebration of the unique life of this Saxon Queen told in floral displays created by the Cathedral Flower Guild.

There’s a Tawdry exhibition in July by Sophie Neville. Tawdry is a series of wearable crochet lace artworks created alongside a series of craft and discussion workshops with women in Ely. It uses the story of St Etheldreda as a lens through which to view how ideas and perceptions of taste impact women’s lives.

Etheldreda – A Saint for All Seasons is a new play by Time Will Tell Theatre that traces the story of Etheldreda, from her East Anglian roots, through war and loss, to marriage and Queenship, to the realisation of her greatest achievement – the building of a religious house on the Isle of Ely.

And there’s a Saxon Fair when the Saxon Group will set up camp on Cross Green for a weekend in July to share stories, crafts, entertainments and weapons with visitors. There will be opportunities to listen to the Saxon storyteller, watch spear dances and find out more about life in Saxon England. There will be stalls demonstrating and selling traditional crafts and in September, the Iceni Botanical Artists Art Exhibition will celebrate the life of Queen Etheldreda in herbals and harvest.

Children from schools across the diocese and home educated children were invited to design panels showing key events in the life of St Etheldreda as part of an education project at the beginning of 2022. Twelve of these designs are being created into a set of hanging applique panels by the Ely Cathedral Broderers, thanks to generous sponsorship.

You can find the programme at Ely Cathedral here here.

There is also a fascinating book about Etheldreda written by Charles Moseley called Etheldreda’s World available to buy in the cathedral shop or online here.

“By any standards, Etheldreda was a remarkable woman in a time of remarkable women. Far from being the wishy washy figure of so much stained glass, she was – had to be – a tough operator.

Great saints are not pushovers. She got her way. She changed the map in the Not-Yet-England of her time (c. 636 AD-679 AD).

What was it like to be a Princess then, an Abbess in a land where the old gods were still honoured by many? What power did women in her position wield? What did it mean to be revered as a Saint?

Dr Charles Moseley’s lively account puts Etheldreda in context, painting a vivid picture which reveals what it was like to be a nun in those days, how marriage was viewed, what the countryside which these intrepid people crisscrossed looked like.”

Etheldreda's World
by Charles Moseley Buy online